Kristina Borrman is a PhD student in the Art History Department at the University of California at Los Angeles. Her research concerns the separate but overlapping histories of private developers and public agencies who participated in building and improving houses in the United States.
One Standardized House for All: America’s Little House
The federal organization Better Homes in America built a model house in a conspicuous Midtown Manhattan location in 1934. Standing on the corner of 39th Street and Park Avenue, America’s Little House drew daily crowds during its nearly one-year run. Better Homes leaders used the model house as an educational demonstration that illustrated how standardized components and methods made home improvement easier and cheaper. Many of these ideas were inspired by Frederick W. Taylor’s philosophy of scientific management, which was originally designed to make industrial work more efficient, but seemed broadly applicable to other professional fields, especially domestic science, during the interwar era. This essay will argue that America’s Little House was an important testing ground for the federal government, which explored ways that Taylor’s efficiency advice might be applied to ordinary houses. In their view, efficiency and thriftiness were democratic qualities, and Better Homes leaders claimed that standardized parts and procedures made home improvement available to all. The research will result in a published paper for Buildings and Magazines journal in Fall 2017.
The Palmquist fund provided travel expenses for my trip to NYC, where I studied an under-researched photographer, Mattie E. Hewitt, at the New-York Historical Society. Her records are archived along with those of her nephew, Richard A. Smith - who photographed the Little House in 1934. I first stumbled upon the Little House photos while I was looking through Smith's archive, and ended up writing about it for my MA thesis. My thesis also has a photo from Mattie E. Hewitt's archive. She photographed department store displays in NYC and that helps provide context for the Little House's interiors.